July 30, 2006

"Not on our watch!"

The recent revelation uncovered by the Union County Watchdog Association that Freeholder Rick Proctor has been appointed by the Union County Democratic Committee and then put on their ballot and elected two times while keeping from the public that he had two complaints filed against him alleging sexual harassment, among other things, has led the UCWA to file an expansive Open Public Records Request.

We find it necessary to conduct an on-site inspection of all complaints, briefs, and settlements for 36 law suits that have shown up on county resolutions in the years 2005 and 2006. View OPRA request

The Star-Ledger can not be trusted

We aren’t quite sure what these law suits allege. What we are now sure of is that “IF” the Union County media knows about these law suits it isn’t informing the public about them. A Star-Ledger reporter knew about the recent Proctor case “months ago” according to an attorney involved, yet hasn’t written a word about it to date. Proctor was sworn in to his new term just “months ago” in January. Also note today’s fluff piece about Assemblywoman Stender’s run for Congress. The Ledger article doesn’t mention a word about her securing lucrative contracts for her husband’s printing firm while she was a freeholder or her present employment with the county.

Above: Public Information Officer D'Elia photographed while taking photo's and harassing women at a polling station on Election Day. D'Elia insisted "I did not take pictures of those women."
The county’s public information officer has been quoted in the Ledger trashing my OPRA requests looking into county business. He’s lamented and lied “by requesting reams of documents she believes she will expose overspending, officials, said, she has forced the government to spend upwards of $100,000.” He then gives a lame accounting, without back-up documentation, to prove his claims of how he arrived at this $100,000 figure.

D’Elia’s salary happens to be just a hair under $100,000 – not including his lucrative “public servant” benefits. Who would the taxpayers rather inform them? The county’s self-serving public disinformation office who are proven liars with obvious connections to muffle the media or the Union County Watchdog Association?

The county can not be trusted

The county tried to cover up this freeholder law suit by excessively redacting executive session meeting minutes as well as broke other rules required by the Open Public Meetings Act. This suit has cost the taxpayers $25,000 to date and it’s just getting started! Proctor is due to give his deposition this week. We propose that the county do away with the entire million dollar a year office of public disinformation – and fetch those documents for the UCWA! We’ve come to that conclusion long ago.

This investigation will produce “reams” of paper; however, on-site inspections don’t require copying unless the requestor specifically asks for them.

I expect the county to counter that this request will “shut down the entire legal department." I propose they shut down the entire county government until taxpayers are informed as to how our officials are conducting themselves and involving us in costly law suits.

Going forward the UCWA will request documents for all new law suits. A freeholder being appointed and elected twice while keeping skeletons in the Star-Ledger’s closet with attorney’s paid for with tax dollars won’t happen again – not on our watch.

July 27, 2006

We'll Have You Processed and On Your Way in JUST ONE MINUTE Mr. Goore

It’s no wonder Goore choose the Elizabeth DMV to restore his license -- It literally only takes a minute to process the paper work.

"This is a service of Freeholder Angel Estrada. I'm connected to you!"

Previously reported in the Bergen Record, Farber said Goore drove her personal car from their North Bergen home to the Elizabeth motor vehicle agency.

Records show that Goore's license was restored at 10:57 a.m. – little more than a half-hour after he left the Fairview checkpoint, according to officials at the Motor Vehicle Commission.

Mapquest estimates the time it takes to travel from the Farber/Goore household to the Elizabeth DMV office at 65 Jefferson Ave. is 29 minutes. (total est. distance: 18.18 miles)

It literally took one minute for Gore to stand in Line with Freeholder Estrada to renew his license.

According to Wally Edge at PoliticsNJ.com:

The MVC has offices in North Bergen, where Goore lives, and also in Irvington, where he works. If Goore, for some reason, didn't want to use the local office in North Bergen (located 1.37 miles from his home), the MVC has seven offices closer to his home than Elizabeth: Jersey City, Lodi, Englewood, Wallington, Newark, East Orange, Bayonne. If Goore was going during his lunch hour (he works for the Township of Irvington), and didn't (for some reason) want to use the local office located 1/2 mile from his office, he could have made it to East Orange, Newark or Sprinfield faster than Elizabeth.

"I called my friend Angel Estrada. I wanted to tell him that Hamlet was trying to get in touch with him." -- N.J. Attorney General Zulima Farber, who says she called Estrada, a Union County Freeholder and manager of the MVC office in Elizabeth, to tell him that her live-in boyfriend, Hamlet Goore, was coming down to straighten out problems with his drivers license and car registration. Goore stood in line with Estrada. (The Record, 07/23/96)

If we are to believe that this standing in line took place than we would have to believe that it literally took about one minute for Goore to drive home from the checkpoint, arrive in Elizabeth, park his car, greet Farber’s good friend Freeholder Estrada and then stand in Line with him to renew his license.

I would hope the investigation into this incident includes a review of Goore’s EZPASS account and a video review of who stood in line in Elizabeth. I for one won’t be shocked when we’re told the video equipment wasn’t working that day. Faulty video equipment is a common occurrence in Union County.

Gore was lucky Estrada was at the office and not traveling on official business that day:

July 25, 2006

Freeholder Rick Pric-tor
Appointed and elected twice with no mention of abusive history

Five years ago, before the Union County taxpayers were stuck picking up the tab of what is shaping up to be yet another expensive employee law suit due to mismanagement and juvenile behavior, this one involving Freeholder Rick Proctor and his aforementioned private part, a complaint was filed in Essex County on August 23, 2000 against Rick Proctor for the same appendage, among other individuals.

Since then Rick Proctor has been appointed a Union County Freeholder and elected twice without a mention of either of these complaints reported in the media.

Plaintiffs Gina Behre and Barbara Kozak filed the complaint against Township of Bloomfield and the Board of Health. Rick Proctor was the Director of Health and Human Services for the Township of Bloomfield.

During their employment with Defendant Township of Bloomfield, plaintiffs allege that they were subject to a hostile working environment and a pattern of gender, age and pregnancy discrimination. Defendants repeatedly subjected plaintiffs and other female employees to egregious and outrageous acts of a sexually offensive nature within the workplace, which created a pervasive hostile working environment for Plaintiffs and other employees, examples of the discrimination include, but are not limited to, the following:

On or about Summer 1998, defendant Zawacki, who was at the time a passenger in an automobile along with defendant Proctor, told plaintiffs to get in the automobile and “sit on our laps”….

On or about October 7th through December 23, 1998 defendant Proctor without justification hired a private investigator to follow and investigate plaintiffs and other female employees and investigate their personal telephone conversations. No such investigation was conducted of similarly situated male employees or male employees who were younger than plaintiff Kozak.

On or about June 1995 and on numerous other occasions, defendant Wardrope paraded through the office with pornographic materials, including but not limited to, photographs of male genitals.

Notwithstanding plaintiffs’ repeated complaints to defendant Proctor, defendant Wardrope repeatedly and continuously used vulgar gestures and language, ridiculed plaintiffs, and used profanity and language with sexual connotation, particularly the expressions, “F---You”, “C—t”, “Whore”, “Slut” and referred to defendant Proctor as “Mr. Pric-tor” in the presence of plaintiffs and other employees.

On or about January 8, 1999, defendant Proctor uttered negative and derogatory comments to plaintiff Behre in the presence of staff regarding her impending maternity leave and pregnancy.

On or about January 8, 1999, defendant Proctor promoted a male individual who was less experienced and less qualified than plaintiffs. Indeed, the individual had no license to conduct, much less supervise, the duties and responsibilities of a sanitary inspector.

This hiring practice is rampant throughout Union County government from the County Manager on down.

View the complaint

Previously reported:
JULY 21, 2006
Dontcha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?
Freeholder Rick Pric-tor in jealous workplace triangle: lawsuit

View the complaint

July 24, 2006

GOP Criticism of 'Directions' Spurred by Watchers Posts

In today's Star-Ledger, Union County Democrats deny that their Union County Directions newsletter - a publication featuring elected officials that is mailed to voters at around election time - is not political at all.

You can read the article, including a quote from our own blogger Pat Quattrocchi, who's runninng for freeholder, here.

Missing from the Ledger article is the fact that the latest Directions featured a screed by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Elizabeth, against the Elizabeth Board of Education, which is stacked with opponents of Mayor Chris Bollwage and Lesniak.

If the newsletter is not political, then why is Sen. Lesniak blasting his political opponents?

If the newsletter is not partisan then why wasn't Elizabeth school board stalwarth Rafael Fajardo, who was accused by the pot (read Lesniak) of being black with corruption, given a chance to respond in the same publication?

Please. If that newsletter isn't political then grits ain't grocery and Paris Hilton is a classy broad.

July 21, 2006

Dontcha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?
Freeholder in jealous workplace triangle: lawsuit

Are you young and sexy? Than don’t apply for a job with the county’s LINCS program where the boss is allegedly the jealous lover of a married freeholder!

Applicants at least 70 years old, and live out of county, need only apply. And being related to a freeholder or another county politician is also a plus.

In documents obtained using the Open Public Records Act, the Union County Watchdog Association has learned that a law suit was filed in Superior Court of Passaic County by a perspective county employee way back on January 26, 2005.

The UCWA found out about this suit only because it filed a complaint with the Government Records Council and the County Prosecutor's Office charging that the county routinely excessively redacts their executive meeting minutes.

Executive Session Minutes dated February 10, 2005 obtained by the UCWA had an item which only stated that a redaction was due to attorney-client privilege. The minutes the county turned into the GRC in response to our complaint showed: Alyssa Scala v. The County of Union, v. Rick Proctor, v. Denise Santiago.

Intrigued by a freeholder as well as a county employee being named in a law suit which apparently the county went to pains of keeping out of the public eye, the UCWA figured it had better keep digging.

Dig it

Alyssa D. Scala alleges in her complaint:

In July 2003, Ms. Scala worked for the Township of Union with the title of Health Educator/Risk Communicator for the Union County LINCS. In her position Ms. Scala trained local emergency responders to protect themselves from, and recognize the signs of, terrorist attacks using biological and chemical agents.

The Union County LINCS is a central network of health departments designed to protect the public and first responders from terrorist attacks. The program is funded by a Federal grant.

The county takes over LINCS

In March 2004, the county began negotiating with the Township of Union and the state of New Jersey to assume all control of the LINCS that was being administered by the town.

At several meetings Freeholder Rick Proctor and Denise Santiago told employees that they would keep together the entire LINCS team and offer employment with the county to all LINCS team members. (There is no specification of physical attributes or age restrictions but plantiffs had to reside in Union County.) Ms. Scala relocated from her home of Wayne in Passaic County to a $1,400 a month rental in Westfield on July 16, 2004.

The State approved the county’s takeover of LINCS on August 13, 2004.

The young and sexy need not apply

On August 17, 2004 Ms. Scala received a letter from the county informing her that she would not be hired.

Ms. Scala alleges that she asked Denise Santiago why she wasn’t being hired as promised. In response, Santiago informed Scala that she wasn’t hired due to an administrative decision to hire a 10-hour-per-week Health Educator/Risk Communicator for the LINCS program. Instead of hiring Scala the county filled the position with Lorraine Kowalski, a 70-year old resident of Morris County.

There are two other Kowalski’s on the county payroll:
Freeholder B.J. Kowalski, and
John Kowalski, Public Safety

As the county turns

Scala alleges in her complaint that she later learned that the county did not hire her because Santiago viewed her as a rival for the affections of Freeholder Rick Proctor. Freeholder Proctor was intimately involved not only with Santiago but with the LINCS takeover negotiations.

Scala further alleges that it is an open secret that Defendant Denise Santiago and Defendant Rick Proctor have and/or had an ongoing romantic relationship that remains secret due to the Defendant Rick Proctor’s marriage to another woman.

The allegations continue by Scala… Defendant Denise Santiago expressed her sexual jealousy of Plaintiff by telling others that, among other things, Defendant Rick Proctor looked suggestively at Plaintiff and that Santiago envied Plaintiff’s youth and physical attributes.

Scala who was 33-years old when she applied for the position, alleges that despite her qualifications for the position she was denied employment by the county and soon afterward the county hired a 70-year old woman who Denise Santiago did not view as a sexual rival for the attention of Freeholder Rick Proctor.

The potential bill this drama will cost the taxpayers:

County resolutions show that $25,000 has been appropriated for this suit to date.

Scala seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, costs of suit, pre- and post-judgment interest, all other relief that the Court deems equitable and just.

Scala, you go girl!

View the complaint

July 19, 2006

County Mouthpiece Calls Girlscout 'Evil,' Mother 'Wicked'...

The story on the cover of the June 2002 Directions Newsletter featured veterans receiving their high school diplomas. They had to leave high school to serve their country During World War II. A Westfield High School junior selflessly toiled on the project in order to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award.

Aside from using her work to promote campaigning freeholders, did the county appreciate this girl's work?

In an e-mail copied to several employees, including the county manager and deputy county manager, then County Public Information Director Michael Murray writes:

"I was at the last meetings, including the 'emergency meeting' with the evil Girl Scout, her wicked mother and the muted troop leader."

Did any county management defend the girl?

County Manager George Devanney responds to Murray's email:

"OK then, how about just snacks……all in favor????"

View Email

Below: Cover featuring three photos of veterans who served their country during war and five photos of campaigning freeholders. There are no girl scouts mentioned or pictured on the cover. They aren't mentioned until paragraph 13 on page 11. Which is seven paragraphs after Freeholder Mingo states, "I was very proud that I helped bring about today's events...:

Next up: The Union County Alliance - Let the sunshine in!

July 18, 2006

Political Campaign Mail: An Important Trust

According to a Postal bulletin dated 10/19/00: (See Bulletin) Any material accepted for mailing at first-Class or Standard Mail (A) postage rates that is mailed for political campaign purposes by a registered political candidate, campaign committee, or committee of a political party is classified as a political campaign mailing.

The Union County Directions Newsletter is sent out tagged “Political” which is a postal designation to ensure campaign mailings get delivered prior to Election Day.

The production of the newsletter, its content and timing is politically motivated as stories and design elements focus on selective candidates. This included a guarantee the newsletter be delivered prior to the day of election. (See guarantee)

A letter to the Elizabeth Post Master from the Union County Alliance asks for a refund of monies in a joint account the Alliance controlled with the County of Union. This account is still being used for the Directions mailings. (See letter)

Even though the Fall 2001 newsletter was produced and ready to go to press the county did not print and mail it because it wouldn’t arrive in mailboxes until after the election.

This posting is a third in a series. Next up will be -
The evil girlscout her wicked mother and the muted troup leader
The Union County Alliance, let the sunshine in!

Previously posed:
Political Graft & the Stenders
Rubbing out a Freeholder

July 17, 2006

Political Graft & the Stenders

Dictionary.com's thesaurus lists words for graft: Kickback, fraud, fix, dishonesty, corruption, con, collusion, and bribe

The publication “Union County Directions” is published by the County of Union through the Union County Alliance (UCA) using tax dollars and county employees. There is a mound of evidence that the publication is being used as campaign literature to promote candidates supported by the Union County Democratic Committee.

The Union County Alliance's (UCA) Newsletter "Directions" was originally a County of Union Newsletter. The county freeholders made the UCA the publisher and gave the money needed to pay for the production and printing to the Alliance. By doing this, the county could side-step the procurement bidding process.

The printing of the first two newsletters were handled by printing broker Richard Stender, d/b/a SVO Printing. Richard was the husband of then sitting Freeholder Linda Stender, who was also on the Board of the Union County Alliance. Stender is currently an assemblywoman and is running for Congress.

Richard was able to charge $20,000 more for each issue he printed than the next highest bidder.

See quotes and invoices mentioned below

SVO, owned by Richard Stender, husband of Linda Stender, charged Union County Alliance $31,892.40 for printing and mailing the summer 1999 issue of Directions (see attached invoice E). This was $13,970 more than quoted by Rentec Design Studio, who quoted printing and mailing for $17,920.

The UCA was also charged an additional $634 for film that was not included in SVO’s quote but was in Rentec’s (see attached quote C). Stender also printed the Fall 1999 issue of Directions, this time charging over $18,000 not including the film charge.

For printing the first two issues of Directions, Richard Stender charged UCA over $33,238. The Union County Alliance has claimed that they are exempt from the Open Public Records Act so getting quotes, invoices and records is impossible without their cooperation. Their un-cooperation proves their guilt.

In 2001, when Joe Renna was working for the County of Union he obtained a quote to print a 24 page full color version of Directions. AFL quoted the printing and mailing at $26,989. (see attached quote G). Richard Stender quoted the same job for $71,315, over $44,326 more than AFL. (see attached quote H). Concerns raised by Joe Renna about the difference in the cost of printing caused the county to use AFL. Renna was served with termination papers stemming from SVO not getting the contract. In the proceedings, evidence showed that e-mails used as evidence by the county were back-dated. The Judge found the county lacked credibility and ruled in Renna’s favor. The docket numbers for the case are: (OAL DKT NO. CSV 3196-03, Agency DKT. NO. 2003-2371)

Did Assemblywoman Stender try to obtain a contract for her husband?

The content of this newsletter is controlled by the County's Public Information Department. The Union County Watchdog Association (UCWA) argues that the UC Democratic Committee should reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of the newsletters, which are mailed to every postal patron twice a year just days before the primary and general elections, which we believe is a violation of Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) laws.

Mike Murray, who is now the president of the Union County Alliance was originally the director of public information for the county. Just as the current head of public information does, Murray made sure that the candidates up for re-election would be prominently displayed throughout the newsletter. The newsletter would be designed and redesigned to make sure that the Democratic party's selected candidates would be featured. Not only the freeholder candidates but those who could use help in their campaign in local elections as well.

For instance the two covers below show how the Summer 2002 issue of Directions was originally designed and then as it was actually printed. Note that the three freeholders that appear on the cover were the ones who were up for re-election that year. Freeholder Proctor needed a little extra boost since he was running as an incumbent by being appointed to fill a vacancy as most current sitting freeholders were.

Also note how the County of Union removed their name as co-publishers.

Original cover design featuring Senior Citizens:

Cover changed to feature campaigning freeholders:

This is the second in a series of findings. Previously reported:

Rubbing out a Freeholder

When sitting Freeholder Don Goncalves was up for re-election in 1999, he had fallen out of favor with the Union County Democratic Committee and did not get their support for the party line. His image was digitally removed from a photograph that appeared in the Directions Newsletter. This was done so it would not give Goncalves any publicity that may have helped his campaign. The before-and-after photos appear below.

Original photo of incumbent Democrat candidates for Freeholder Chester Holmes, Assembly Candidate Linda Stender, Freeholder Don Goncalves and Union County Alliance Director and Kean University president Henry Ross.

The photo as it appeared in the Directions Newsletter which was mailed to every postal patron before the election with Freeholder Don Goncalves rubbed out. Goncalves’ arm was made to look like it belonged to Ross.

Upcoming features in this series will be:

Political mail designation manipulations

Newsletter produced but not sent to press because it wouldn't make into mailboxes in time for Election Day

The Union County Alliance – let the sunshine in

July 16, 2006

Where (and What) in the World is the County Public Information Officer?

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has an official spokesperson holed up in the county administration building in Elizabeth, the seat of Union County Government.

According to the county Web site, this “office disseminates information regarding County Government operations to the general public and acts as a liaison for media inquiries regarding the actives of the Freeholders and various departments of County Government." www.unioncountynj.org

Well that certainly sounds extremely important, but oddly this office does not have its own budget and probing over the past several years has revealed that no one is quite sure how many people the office employs and who they are.

One thing for certain is that the guy in charge is listed on the county payroll records as Confidential Aide/Director of Public Information, working out of the Office of the Clerk of the Board and earning $99,533 per year.

The County Public Information Dept. churns out press releases by the dozens primarily extolling the “good works” of the freeholder board and announcing upcoming events, such as the so called free concerts in the parks series.

But this department's most important duty is to provide “damage control” to keep the freeholders looking good in the eyes of the citizenry.

Events such as the recent dumping of contaminated soil on county property and the passage by the freeholders of the county’s $400 million plus budget requiring a 4.8 percent increase in the tax levy on property owners are skillfully spun to either cast a positive light on or portray the freeholders as hapless victims of extenuating circumstances.

Whenever a freeholder is around it is a sure bet that the “PIO” will be there, joined at the hip.

It is no secret that he is compensated handsomely for his duties as a political worker for the UC Democratic Committee, as well as campaigns for specific party members; this is borne out by filings with NJ ELEC and can be accessed on the state’s Web site.

All of the aforementioned begs the question: just where do this “PIO’s” official duties end and where do his personal political ones begin?

County employees, it has been repeatedly suggested, are encouraged to do volunteer work for the party and support party fund raising efforts. When a single party administration is ensconced for a number of years one has to conclude that the line of demarcation could easily become blurred.

There is no argument that he is entitled to do what he wishes for whoever he wishes on his personal time. However, government employees holding positions which have the level of responsibility and status that he enjoys must be especially mindful to avoid all appearances of any conflict of interest or breach of ethics.

These employees must fully understand exactly where their work day starts and their personal life begins being careful in both their job performance and their attitude not allowing the two to become one and the same.

The Office of Public Information costs the taxpayers hundreds and thousands of tax dollars every year and it seems to me that it has become simply a vehicle to make everyone inm charge feel good and look good rather than to disperse useful information to the public in a courteous manner upon request.

July 15, 2006

Rank and File Workers are Smokescreen for Rampant Patronage

In December 2000, Worall newspapers reported “The Union County Improvement Authority has a new executive director: Charlotte DeFilippo, chairwoman of the Union County Democratic Committee.”

DeFilippo replaced Doug Placa, who was then Angie Devanney’s husband. Angie is now married to the county manager. Placa was the UCIA’s first executive director, appointed in February 1999 at an annual part-time salary of $40,000. The position was turned full-time when DeFilippo was appointed and the salary was set at 104,000. DeFillipo’s current salary is $132,910 up almost $100,000 since she took over.

Worrall reported in 2000 “There’s no way that job warrants $104,000 a year, said Wayne Smith, the lone Republican on the nine-member UCIA board.” He called it a blatant patronage job that does not even warrant $40,000 a year. The UCIA is doing a lot for the county but this is typical patronage and the UCIA really plays patronage to the fullest extent. He was the lone dissenter in a 7-1 vote to replace the part-time financial administrator with a full-time executive director.

Formerly the township clerk in Hillside, where she also is Democratic chairwoman, DeFilippo has worked for the county since Democrats took control of the freeholder board in 1998. She was a management specialist in welfare, a civil service position, with an annual salary of approximately $75,000.

In an editorial published in Worrall last week DeFilippo writes that public employees are being made scapegoats because of the perception among the public that they have overly luxurious pension packages.

Union County employee records show that in 2000, 868 employees made over $50,000. Today that number has almost doubled to 1,530 employees. In 2000, 29 employees made over $100,000. Today that number has almost tripled to 74. 542 Union County Employees have the same surnames as elected Democrat Officials.

It isn’t the rank-and-file that infuriates good-government watchers. What people are furious about are the politicos like DeFilippo who are abusing the system. They are using the workers as a smoke screen. She writes of rank-and-file employees as if she is one of them. Even more deceitful, she claims to be the defender of them - and more, calls herself a "Democrat."

What New Jersey needs is for people to stop blindly following a political party. So called Democrats like DeFilippo are making fools of the rank-and-file worker and are using them to the hilt. It’s the rank-and-file that are being taxed out of their homes to pay the patronage salaries and perks of the DeFillipos of New Jersey.

July 13, 2006

Pssst tax-payers....

....“County freeholders pulled the plugs on their meeting recordings when they realized you could hear them whispering to each other up there...."

When the county’s office of public misinformation planted a story in the Star-Ledger last week about the county’s video and PA equipment he didn’t mention (and the Ledger obviously didn’t ask) when or why they stopped “audio” recording their meetings. They also didn’t show any proof that the equipment was broken to begin with.

There is no documentation to support the county’s claim that the video or audio equipment wasn’t working to begin with or that the electronic recording of public meetings was discussed by management. The public would have to assume that they made a decision to spend $78,000 on equipment after June 23, 2006 since an OPRA request didn’t show any records pertaining to new equipment.

See the linked records in response to this OPRA request dated June 23, 2006: I would like to conduct an on-site inspection of all a) repair bills from 2004 to date; b) repair estimates from 2004 to date and c) all internal correspondence from 2004 to date including but not limited to memos and emails in regards to all video and audio equipment used to electronically record freeholder meetings including decisions and orders to cease recordings of these meetings.

What was wrong with the old equipment and when did they decide to spend $78,000 on new equipment?

At the June 22, 2006 freeholder meeting I stated during public comment that if they didn’t record meetings than the UCWA will legally challenge them and find a way to do it for them. The Star-Ledger article ran on July 7, 2006 there is no press release about the new equipment on the county web site.

The article quotes the head of public misinformation “We couldn’t go on the air because our tapes were basically a squiggle,” and…… roughly 18 months ago when the cameras and microphones at the county administration building in Elizabeth went kaput…..

When did they stop video taping meetings?

Approximately 18 months ago, on December 16, 2004, I was taped being tossed out of a FH meeting.

Yolanda Padilla also spoke and was treated very rudely by Freeholder Estrada. Padilla’s son Eddie met his demise while being kept in the UC Detention Center. The states Child Advocate investigated and released a report stating "The county’s persistent violation of applicable laws and JJC and Attorney General directives over several years, led directly to the conditions...". Padilla spoke about the freeholders and employees not deserving a pay raise because of the way they kept the J.V. Detention center and then as if that wasn’t entertainment enough folks in Freeholder Estrada’s closing comments he went on a ranting diatribe about bad boys deserving to be punished, meaning Padilla's son, and how they, meaning the freeholders who ignored the conditions of the detention center for years, did nothing “bad”.

That was the last tape I requested through OPRA and I was able to transcribe every word that was said. Including the words the freeholders and county manager were saying to each other while I was being tossed out.

When did they realize that they were on tape?

I’ve purchased two video tapes through OPRA to date. County officials obviously didn’t know that the microphone for their video equipment was picking up what the microphones for the room wasn’t. You can hear on the videos what they were saying under their breath to each other. Which by the way is a violation of the OPMA law. I believe they learned about this after the last video I requested and that’s BASICALLY why their equipment went SQUIGGLEY.

When did they stop audio taping meetings?

At the June 8, 2006 meeting Freeholder Chester Holmes reminded residents in the audience that “Our chairman here has his attorney sitting next to him. You need to ask yourselves do you have your attorney sitting next to you? You should keep that in mind when you cross the line while addressing this board”.

I placed an OPRA for any electronic recording of the meeting so I could upload Holmes homage to the First Amendment on our web site. My OPRA request was returned “no record to provide”. That’s when I learned that they weren’t even audio recording meetings.

In 2005 a Watchdog member told me she attended a FH meeting and was astounded when Freeholder Al Mirabella presented outgoing Public Information Officer Sean Carr with a resolution thanking him for “being an operative” and a “help to each and every one of us”. The meeting minutes and resolution didn’t use the word operative so I placed an OPRA for the Video. That was when I learned that they had stopped video taping meetings (my town never broadcast them and the county only lists on their tax-payer funded web site the airtime schedule for their Freeholder Forum campaign show).

When I wasn’t given a video recording I asked for an audio recording of the meeting and I was given a CD with Mirabella’s farewell thank you to his tax-payer funded operative. Sometime between then and now their “audio” equipment was unplugged.
"If you do not electronically record these meetings the Union County Watchdog Association will find a way to legally challenge you and to do it for you." Tina Renna, President UCWA, 6/22/06

"This investment in our sound system, PA and taping system will ensure that the public, our constituents and all entities that do business with the county will continue to receive information about our meetings in a timely and accurate manner," Senator Ray Lesniak's nephew appointed County Manager George Devanney Star-Ledger 7/7/06

July 09, 2006

Holding the Line

Most everyone passing through Westfield using a cell phone has had the experience of losing a bar or two.

The husband of a friend of mine does a lot of outdoor work in town and she finds herself usually amused but admittedly sometimes annoyed as her spouse attempts to remedy the situation by raising his voice considerably. She tells him to stop yelling and wait till he gets home however more often than not he persists but we know that that is futile.

We have found ourselves living our lives “wired”. Cellular phones, PCs, lap tops, Blackberrys, answering machines, cordless phones and the like, we are in an age of “immediate communication gratification”. We can’t seem to wait to get our message out or learn who has been trying to get their message to us regardless of where we are, who we are, and in some cases who is picking up the tab.

Union County government has armed it’s employees to the hilt with land lines, cell phones, Blackberry’s, Nextels, pagers, PCs, home internet service, via cable, dial-up and DSL with the bill being fully footed by the taxpayers.

One Verizon bill, in May of 2005 for Freeholder phone service and charged thru the county Communications Dept. showed $459.69 for long distance charges alone. It is no wonder that the Board of Chosen Freeholders voted affirmatively to have the county telephone service audited to uncover areas that the county can save money.

Certainly a step in the right direction but there is however one little thing missing from the plan. The firm conducting the audit, XTEL Communications, of Marlton, will only be looking at the “land lines” service and equipment and not the cellular phones or Blackberrys.

On Election Day 2004, I spent the morning outside the polls in my hometown.

I shared my station with a representative of the opposing party, a county employee who works in the Division of Information Technology. She indicated that her party candidates on the ballot for the local election had to work and since the county employees had the day off, she was available to greet the incoming voters working the polls on their behalf.

At that time Blackberry’s were the newest gadget in the form of wireless communications and I watched as she took one in and out of her pocket all morning. Not having actually seen one before I felt compelled to inquire about it.

She related that the county had given it to her “for work” as she happily checked Emails, sent communications, and answered calls all while stationed outside our borough hall.

Later that day, I pondered the Blackberry. Since it was for work, and she worked for the county and the county was closed for business, who was she communicating with?

I can only speculate, but I later learned that a national campaign was using just this type of technology to heavily monitor and direct election day GOTV activities.

One of the fastest growing companies in NJ, XTEL according to their website, has been providing business customers, municipalities and townships nationwide with telecommunications services such as long distance, toll free numbers, local service and DSL. Contracted by the county they will only get paid if they find ways to save money, their fee is 35% of the savings realized. This is very nice but still does not address what can be a very large expense and one very easily and widely abused, as evidenced last year when someone racked up the over $400 bill.

Seems it is time to bring in an outside company to audit this area of communications as well. A company that can review the entire shebang and be capable of crafting an all-comprehensive package deal too good to pass up.

July 08, 2006

Smells like county goose is cooking

It was recently reported in an editorial published in Worrall Community Newspapers “What budget crisis?” that the Union County Public Information Officer, Sebastian D'Elia, with an annual salary of $99,533, complained that reporters were sending him on a “wild goose chase” by asking him for a list of who attended a conference and how many rooms were rented while trying to ascertain how much tax-dollars was spent on this trip.

When D’Elia reluctantly caught the goose it honked “Union County spent less than $5,000 for their officials to attend the National Association of Counties conference in Milwaukee in 2003; more than $10,000 for the Arizona conference in 2004; and $16,868 for the conference in Hawaii last year.” It was reported that in the middle of a budget crisis Union County officials will be heading to the Windy City this year – which was once a thriving center for cronyism and corrupt politics.

The Union County Watchdog Association has to rely solely on the Open Public Records Act for information. The county doesn't simply answer questions. If an answerer can’t be found in a document than we have no recourse to get any information out of the all-Democrat controlled Union County Government.

It’s not just the extensive office of Public Information that is unresponsive, and I might add from personal experience – extremely rude, to the public, it’s the freeholders themselves. Attending freeholder meetings is a waste of time. Not only do they not discuss county resolutions before all 9 freeholders unanimously vote “yes” on their passage, they don’t answer the public’s questions.

I attended two freeholder meetings in the month of June and during public comments I asked for the board to provide me with an explanation as to how the county liability insurance works in regards to lawsuits in general and also particularly in the case of the lawsuit that was recently settled stemming from the harassment of the former decorated Sheriff’s Officer Virginia Fanelli which cost taxpayers millions of dollars in attorney’s fees alone (perhaps the most expensive employee lawsuit in Union County’s history). It has been reported that the county had to sue its insurance carriers because this harassment complaint wasn’t reported to their insurers properly.

Although the attorney’s have been getting paid all along and Fanelli was compensated for her suffering on June 14, 2006, as is shown in the county check registry, there has been no public information regarding what the outcome of this misreporting and subsequent insurance company suit has cost the taxpayers.

Freeholder Chairman Al Mirabella said he would get back to me on June 8th. I am writing this on July 8th and haven’t received a piece of information regarding the expenditure of millions of tax-dollars, the harassment of a county employee, and the misreporting of the incident to county insurance carriers.

An OPRA request for the original settlement suit which the Fanelli suit stemmed from titled Malcolm vs. MacDonald was returned “Document can not be located”.

The county has no qualms about sending the public on wild goose chases to obtain information regarding the expenditure of our tax dollars and their managerial inefficiencies. We desperately need to cook the incumbent freeholder’s gooses on election day and elect freeholders that will be accountable to residents.